Massachusetts See And Do
Nantucket has 10 public beaches, some reachable only by foot or bike. The most popular North Shore spots are Dionis and Jetties beaches. Dionis's mild surf and wide dunes make it ideal for families with older kidsit's a three-mile bike ride from town to get there. At Jetties Beach, you can learn to sail, windsurf, or kayak from the nonprofit Nantucket Community Sailingprivate, group, and women-only lessons are available (508-228-6600; www.nantucketsailing.com; closed Labor Day through early June) and chow down at a casual seafood restaurant. Surfers head for the wilder South Shore; among the best beaches are Surfside and the more remote, westerly Cisco. The latter has especially big waves and is home to the Nantucket Island Surf School, which provides boards and wet suits for its private and group lessons. You can call ahead if you want to (and reschedule if the waves aren't crashing), or just show up in your bathing suit and head for the van hung with wet suits. Boards and wet suits are also available for rent by the hour, half day, full day, or week. (508-560-1020; nantucketsurfing.com). For more information and a map of the island's beaches visit www.nantucketchamber.org/visitor/beach.html.
The 115 beaches strung out along Cape Cod's 560 miles of coastline run the gamut from surfer-friendly to family-friendly to clothing-optional. The best (and generally the most crowded) are the ocean-facing beaches, especially those along the Cape Cod National Seashore's 40-mile stretch of soaring dunes and heavy surf. These include Coast Guard Beach, which has an intact Coast Guard lifesaving station (now used for educational programs), and Nauset Light Beach, under the lighthouse made famous by artist Edward Hopper. Enter the park at the Salt Pond Visitor Center, off Route 6 in Eastham ($15 per car, $3 per bike or pedestrian; 508-771-2144, nps.gov/caco).
To the south of the National Seashore is Atlantic-facing Nauset Beach, the largest beach on the Cape. Managed by the town of Orleans, it has a full-service concession stand, rental chairs, and umbrellas, and plenty of parking (Nauset Beach Rd., 508-240-3780, town.orleans.ma.us/Pages/OrleansMA_Parks/beaches). On the Outer Cape (i.e., furthest from the mainland), Wellfleet's Marconi Beach (Marconi Beach Road, off Route 6) and Truro's Head of the Meadow Beach (off Route 6) have mountainous sand dunes. In Provincetown, Race Point Beach (off Route 6) has huge dunes and powerful surf; the town-operated Herring Cove Beach (at the end of Route 6A) is more or less officially clothing-optional.
Beaches on the protected Cape Cod Bay side, where there are seldom waves, are usually less busy and attract residents and families with young children. The glaciers that formed Cape Cod also left behind more than 350 freshwater lakes and ponds, and some of those have beaches that are especially good for families with kids.
Some beaches restrict parking to residents only, though those are typically still accessible by bike. Most others charge up to $20 per day in the summer. Weekly and full-season parking stickers (typically from $50 to $70 and from $110 to $225, respectively, depending on the town) can be purchased at the town hall for beaches in that town. A list of beaches with their locations is at Capecodchamber.org/beaches, and a helpful map can be found at Capecodbeachchair.com/beachguide.
The Vineyard has 14 public beaches as well as six residents-only beaches that are off-limits to outsiders (unless your hotel provides guest passes or you're renting and can provide a copy of the lease). Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark is one of the most beautiful (it's also clothing-optional) and fair game for guests of the Inn at Blueberry Hill. Lambert's Cove Beach in West Tisbury has the finest sand and is also resident-only, though guests of Lambert's Cove Inn can go there. For big waves, try the Atlantic-facing Katama Beach, also known as South Beach, just outside Edgartown: It's open to everybody, although there's a strong undertow that makes it dangerous for kids. A public beach with gentler waves is Joseph Sylvia State Beach, the narrow two-mile stretch between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. The small Menemsha Public Beach, beside Menemsha Harbor, also has gentler waters, and is conveniently close to great take-out seafood from Larsen's Fish Market (Dutcher Dock; 508-645-2680) and The Bite (29 Basin Rd.; 508-645-239; thebitemenemsha.com). Two of the prettiest Vineyard beaches are well off the beaten path: Aquinnah Public Beach, also known as Moshup Beach, is located under the dramatic Aquinnah cliffs (it's a ten-minute walk down Moshup Trail from the parking lot); East Beach, in the secluded Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, requires taking the ferry from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick and paying a fee to the Trustees of Reservations (unless you're a member). There's also a freshwater beach on Long Cove Pond in the Long Point Wildlife Refuge.
Cape Cod has a huge network of off-road cycling trails, many of which cruise through the woods and past cranberry bogs, clam shacks, ice cream stands, and freshwater lakes. Bike paths about seven and a half miles long line each side of the Cape Cod Canal. The Shining Sea Path in Falmouth runs nearly five miles along an abandoned rail line from Woods Hole to Falmouth Center; it will more than double in length when an expansion to North Falmouth is completed in spring 2009. But the longest off-road bike route is the hugely popular 28-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail, which runs from South Dennis to Wellfleet along another former railroad right-of-way (508-896-3491; mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/ccrt.htm). Parking is free at various points along the route, and the Rail Trail connects to a bike path inside Nickerson State Park as well as to the nine-mile network within the Cape Cod National Seashore. Note that many off-road trails get crowded in the summer.
Massachusetts Bike Route 1 runs from Boston to Provincetown and Woods Hole, partly on protected bikeways and mostly on vehicle roads. The Cape Cod Cyclist Club organizes free group road- and mountain-bike rides (capecodcyclist.com), and Bike and the Like runs seven-night fall cycling tours of Cape Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket (877-776-6572, bikeandthelike.com). Trail maps and rental shop locations are available at Bikecapecod.com.
Martha's Vineyard has miles of bike routes, most of them wide paths set apart from the main roads by grassy strips. There are short trails such as the scenic two-mile run along Main Street in Vineyard Haven to the West Chop Lighthouse, the three-mile route from Edgartown to South Beach, or the seven-mile path from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown. More serious cyclists can ride 20 miles from Edgartown, around the state forest, and back. Bringing your own bike to the island costs from $3 to $6 each way on the ferries, bicycle rental shops proliferate, and most hotels and many inns have bicycles for loan or rent. (There are bike racks on the buses of the Martha's Vineyard Transit Authority.) On coastal routes, be aware of occasional patches of sand and strong head winds; inland trails aren't always particularly scenic.
The bike routes are clearly marked on most street maps; otherwise you can find a trail map online at mvy.com or mvol.com, or pick one up at Anderson's Bike Rentals in Oak Bluffs (23 Circuit Ave. Extension; 508-693-9346) or Edgartown Bicycles (212 Main St.; 508-627-9008; edgartownbicycle.com). Trike Panther Travel Adventures, started by a retiree who cycled from California to Florida, rents recumbent trikes and leads half-day, full-day, and five-day guided island tours (888-443-2071; guidedcycling.com).
Low-lying and just 14 miles long and 3.5 miles wide, Nantucket is easily toured by bicycle. Of the island's seven clearly marked trails, the best is the 5.5-mile Madaket Bike Path, which heads west from the Nantucket Town rotary toward Madaket Beach, a prime place to watch the sunset. Eight-mile Polpis Bike Path heads east from the rotary toward the bluffs of Siasconset and Sankaty Head Light. Bicycle rentals are readily available in town and at the airport. Young's Bicycle Shop near the Steamship Authority ferry terminal has great free maps of the island's tangled streets and extensive bike routes (6 Broad St.; 508-228-1151; youngsbicycleshop.com). For more information, check out www.wheelsheelsandpedals.com.
City-center Boston Common is the nation's oldest public park. Cattle grazed here between 1634 and 1830, but today, the rolling green hills and bench-lined paths—which are being spruced up in an ongoing renovation—are populated with sunning and strolling Bostonians of every stripe. Kids frolic in the fountain of the shallow Frog Pond during the summer; in winter it becomes a picturesque ice-skating rink. The adjacent Public Garden is more formally landscaped, with flower plantings, a statue of George Washington on horseback, and a pond where the famous pedal-powered Swan Boats operate from mid-April through mid-September. It's one of America's most scenic public places. A beloved bronze sculpture of baby ducks on parade is in the northeast corner of the park, inspired by Robert McCloskey's children's classic, Make Way for Ducklings. Both parks are good places for a picnic lunch. Cute sandwich shops line Charles Street; local favorite Finagle-a-Bagel is directly across from Boston Common (129 Tremont St.; 617-426-3300), Chacarero, in Downtown Crossing, serves up Chilean sandwiches of chicken or beef with Muenster cheese, string beans, tomato, avocado spread, and hot sauce (426 Washington St.; 617-542-0392; closed weekends), and
800 Boylston Street
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 267 3825
Put your skepticism aside: This tour of Boston on WWII amphibious vehicles is actually fun and informative (with the occasional historical embellishment). The brightly colored Ducks motor around the city then plunge into the Charles River to catch skyline views of downtown—once you're in the water, you might even get to pilot. The personable guides (sorry, "conDUCKtors") have all passed rigorous tests about city history and lore. You might learn about the chemical reaction that causes some Beacon Hill houses to have windowpanes of bluish-purple glass (and why this is desirable), and the sticky situation the city found itself in after the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. Tickets sell out fast, so if you're intent on "ducking," reserve ahead online (up to five days in advance). Tours depart from (and tickets are sold outside of) the Museum of Science and New England Aquarium; there's also a ticket booth in the Prudential Center.—updated by Jon Marcus
Available daily from March to November and Saturdays and Sundays in December 9 am until one hour before sunset.
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 223 8666
Just a seven-mile ferryboat ride across the Boston Harbor, this little-known national park makes a great day trip on a sunny summer day. The park extends to 34 islands, 6 of which are accessible to visitors. The extraordinarily well-preserved Fort Warren on Georges Island was built in 1833, and served as a military training ground and a Civil War prison. Nature lovers will enjoy Grape Island, which has a multitude of shorebirds and berry bushes—all within sight of the Boston skyline. Ferries depart from Long Wharf in front of Christopher Columbus Park and run between Georges, Lovells, and Spectacle islands; interisland ferries shuttle to Grape, Bumpkin, and Peddocks islands. The schedules vary depending on the season and the day of the week; be sure to check the schedule online in advance). And pack a picnic lunch, as food options on the islands are slim (just hot dogs, subs, and sodas on Spectacle and Georges).—updated by Jon Marcus
Early May—early October, with occasional special events off season.
700 Boylston Street
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 536 5400
The Boston Public Library is a destination in itself, and not just for bookworms. Charles Follen McKim designed the original building (check out where the stonemasons ran out of room to chisel "Shakespeare" among the names of the literary greats inscribed on the facade), and the addition is courtesy of Philip Johnson. Inside is art by Augustus and Louis Saint-Gaudens, Lincoln Memorial sculptor Daniel Chester French, John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, John James Audubon, Rembrandt, Goya, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rockwell Kent, and Alfred Stieglitz. There are also murals, including John Singer Sargent's Judaism and Christianity, a depiction of the development of world religions, which Sargent considered his greatest achievement, and The Quest of the Holy Grail, by Edwin Austin Abbey, with 150 life-size figures illustrating the legends of King Arthur. In its research room, the library exhibits some of its rare book holdings, which include Shakespeare first folios and the personal papers of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Free art and architecture guided tours meet in the lobby of the McKim Building: Check the Web site for times.—Jon Marcus
Open Mondays through Thursdays 9 am to 9 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 9 am to 5 pm, Sundays 1 to 5 pm.
4 Yawkey Way
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 877 733 7699 (toll-free)
Tel: 617 226 6000
Even Yankees fans have to admit that there's something special about seeing a ball game at Fenway Park. First opened in 1912, it's one of the smallest stadiums in the major leagues, and it's always packed (every game has been sold out since May 15, 2003) with fans eagerly awaiting a home-team hit over the Green Monster, the 37-foot-high left-field wall. (The seats on top of the Green Monster are particularly coveted.) Sellouts or not, you can still get face-value tickets on game day—300 are set aside for every game and are sold beginning two and a half hours before the first pitch at the little-noticed Gate C ticket window on Lansdowne Street. Or you could pay a huge surcharge to one of the ticket brokers with storefronts in the neighborhood. If you still can't score seats for love or money (or because the Yankees are in town), you can take a guided tour of the ballpark, including the press box, the dugout, the graffiti left by players inside the Green Monster, and the exact spot (Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21) where Ted Williams' record home run touched down. The whole Fenway experience is steeped in tradition, from the manual scoreboard to the organ to the Boston-accented hecklers. Grab a sausage-and-pepper sandwich outside the park before or after. Remember, Massachusetts liquor laws are strict: Beer vendors do not wander the stands, so you'll have to buy your overpriced beer at the beer stands underneath the seats. And bring ID, even if you haven't needed it in years.—updated by Jon Marcus
301 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 266 1492 (for information)
Tel: 617 266 1200 (for tickets)
Bostonians display a similar devotion to the Boston Symphony Orchestra as they do to their beloved Red Sox. One of the finest orchestras in the world, the BSO presents some 30 programs each season (September through early May) in the elegant Symphony Hall, which has some of the world's best acoustics. Tickets to sit in on rehearsals for sold-out performances are available online, at the box office, and by phone; it's open seating, and every man for himself, however, so look out for the little old ladies with walkers. During the summer, the symphony decamps to Tanglewood, its home in the Berkshires. In spring and early summer, the Pops presents more contemporary, popular tunes both at Symphony Hall and at the outdoor Hatch Shell on the Esplanade along the river in Back Bay. The Fourth of July program is a Boston (and American) tradition.—updated by Jon Marcus
Billing itself as "Boston's Left Bank," Cambridge is an academic center, a technological corridor, and a vibrant, multicultural city located just across the Charles River from Boston. It's easily reachable on the T or by foot across one of the several bridges, and you'd do well to set aside an entire day to explore it properly. In Harvard Square, street musicians compete for attention with socialists handing out literature. Purists complain that it's become too commercial and there are too many chain restaurants and shops (and it's true, you'll find the usual Gaps and Pizzeria Unos), but it's still a great place for strolling and people-watching with an ice cream cone from Herrell's (15 Dunster St.; 617-497-2179). South of Harvard along Mass. Ave. (only tourists call it Massachusetts Avenue), Central Square is a corridor of ethnic restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops with a funkier, edgier feel, such as the Middle East music venue and the1369 Coffee House (1369 Cambridge St. in Inman Square, 617-576-1369, and 757 Mass. Ave. in Central Square, 617-576-4600,). At Harvard University, get your bearings at Harvard Information Center, located in the Holyoke Center arcade (1350 Mass. Ave.; 617-495-1573), then walk around Harvard Yard to admire the centuries-old academic and residential buildings. There are three art museums to choose from: American and European works at the Fogg (32 Quincy St.; 617-495-9400), art from German-speaking countries of northern and central Europe at the Busch-Reisinger Museum (32 Quincy St.; 617-495-9400), and Asian, Islamic, and Indian art at the Sackler (485 Broadway; 617-495-9400). Even non–science types will be impressed by the Harvard Museum of Natural History, home to the intricate Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants, commonly known as "the glass flowers." It includes more than 830 species that were created as early as 1886 for botany students to study (26 Oxford St.; 617-495-3045). Across the street from Harvard Yard, the Sanders Theatre presents concerts (from folk to classical music) and public lectures. First used in 1876, this all-wooden space evokes old English academia, and is prized for its acoustics (45 Quincy St.; 617-496-2222). Farther downriver, MIT has a museum, too, which details some of the technological breakthroughs and geeky pranks of that university's rich history (265 Mass. Ave.; 617-253-5927); some cutting-edge architecture to admire, by the likes of Frank Gehry (the Ray and Maria Stata Center on Vassar Street); and world-class art by Pablo Picasso, Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder, and others. Pick up a guide, or arrange a guided tour, at the List Visual Arts Center (20 Ames St., Building E15; 617-253-4680).—updated by Jon Marcus
The Cape Cod Baseball League is America's premier collegiate summer league and has been an incubator for some of the sport's top pro players since it was founded in 1885. Alumni include Mike Lowell, Mo Vaughn, Barry Zito, Nomar Garciaparra, Thurman Munson, Jason Varitek, "Buck" Showalter, Jacoby Ellsbury, and more than 200 players currently active in the major leagues. Visit the Web site for a schedule and directions—the teams play on municipal and public school fields between early June and mid-August—and bring a beach chair or blanket to watch the up-and-coming talent up close. Some teams ask for donations at the gate or pass a hat to pay for their expenses.
60 Hope Lane, off Route 6A
Dennis , Massachusetts
Tel: 508 385 4477
The Cape Cod Museum of Art, in Dennis, is devoted to Cape Cod's not inconsiderable contribution to American art. The permanent collection includes 950 works by the likes of Rockwell Kent, Charles Hawthorne, Henry Hensche, Oliver Chaffee, and sculptors Gil Franklin and Varujan Boghosian. The $8 admission fee is optional on Thursdays.
Open Thursdays 10 am to 8 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm, and Sundays 12 to 5 pm, year-round; also open Mondays 10 am to 5 pm Memorial Day through Columbus Day.
869 Main Street (Route 6A)
Brewster , Massachusetts
Tel: 508 896 3867
Set on 383 acres of conservation land overlooking a salt marsh and Cape Cod Bay, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History hosts kid- and adult-friendly programs and exhibits about local animals and sea life. Don't miss the nature trails or the Marshview Room—bird feeders hung outside make for fantastic indoor bird-watching, and binoculars are provided.
Open daily 9:30 am to 4 pm, June through September; Wednesdays through Sundays 11 am to 3 pm, October through December; Thursdays through Sundays 11 am to 3 pm, February and March; and Wednesdays through Sundays 11 am to 3 pm, April and May.
Tel: 508 771 2144
The Cape Cod National Seashore is a 43,500-acre park with great beaches, hiking, cycling, bird-watching, and nature-gazing, plus a visitor center. The seashore overlaps six towns, and is still home to some lucky individuals whose properties were grandfathered in when President John F. Kennedy established this protected area. In addition to its natural beauties, the seashore encompasses several historic sites. Inventor Guglielmo Marconi sent the first transatlantic wireless transmission from a station in Wellfleet on January 19, 1903; nine years later, the same station received the distress call from the Titanic (Wireless Rd., off Route 6). A plaque off Nauset Heights Road marks the site where a German U-boat turned its guns on Orleans during World War I—the only place in the United States that was shelled during that conflict. (No one was hurt.) Stories like these, and more about the natural surroundings, are available in two-minute messages recorded by park rangers that you can access from your cell phone. Look for the "Dial and Discover" signs.
Chappaquiddick, an island just off Edgartown, is the least-known part of the Vineyard…well, least-known except for The Bridgethe one on which Mary Jo Kopechne lost her life and Ted Kennedy nearly lost his political career. But this tiny island is also one of the most beautiful places on the Vineyard. Hidden among its pines and oaks is the 14-acre Mytoi Japanese garden. Its red fretwork bridge, designed by architect Hugh Jones, is framed in daffodils, azaleas, hinoki cypress, and holly (depending on the season). You also can hike, fish, kayak, bird-watch, and pick blueberries. To get there, hop aboard what locals call the one-minute ferry (it actually takes three minutes) from the Edgartown wharf (Dike Rd.; 508-627-7689; thetrustees.org). There's another 14 miles of hiking trails in the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge on the eastern edge of Chappaquiddick, including a stretch along a seven-mile barrier beach. The refuge includes ponds, cedar groves, salt marshes, and the 1893 Cape Poge Lighthouse, and there are tours that cover natural history, fishing, lighthouses, and wildlife (aboard a kayak or canoe) as well as self-guided tours. Over-sand vehicle permits (available at the gatehouse for $180) allow four-wheel-drive vehicles access to 14 miles of dune roads.
51 Sandy Pond Road
Lincoln , Massachusetts
Tel: 781 259 8355
More popular with locals than tourists, the deCordova is off the beaten track by virtue of its location, about 16 miles west of Boston, in the picturesque town of Lincoln. The experience is well worth renting a car for the day. Set in a converted mansion overlooking woods and a large lake, the museum focuses on contemporary art, much of it by New England artists. But the real fun here is the sculpture park: 35 acres of rolling hills and wooded areas, populated by about 80 contemporary sculptures. You (and any kids you happen to be toting) will enjoy the time outdoors while taking in a little culture, too. Don't miss Jim Dine's Two Big Black Hearts: two huge bronze hearts with the artist's handprints and various tools, such as hammers and garden clippers, cast into them. If renting a car isn't an option, you can access the museum by taking the MBTA commuter rail (Purple Line) from Boston's North Station to Lincoln and then a taxi (see the Web site for details). And since you're in the neighborhood, you might want to swing by nearby Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden.
Museum building open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 5 pm; sculpture park open daily from dawn to dusk.
Boston Common Visitor Center
148 Tremont Street
Boston , Massachussetts
Tel: 617 357 8300
Winding around 16 historical sites, the two-and-a-half-mile Freedom Trail is a good introduction to Boston history—and also to the city's sometimes complicated geography. Pick up a map at the visitor's center on Tremont Street at the edge of Boston Common and walk along the red line on the ground (it's sometimes painted, sometimes lined in brick). While it's possible to walk the trail in an hour or two, leave time to stop along the way. You'll pass the graves of John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Ben Franklin's parents at the Granary Burying Ground; Boston's first meeting house, Faneuil Hall, which hosted debates about the Sugar Tax of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765—note the distinctive grasshopper weather vane on the top of the building, and don't miss the little-known military museum in the attic (4 South Market Building; 617-523-1300)—and the Paul Revere House. Dating to 1680, it's the oldest building still standing in downtown Boston, and a good example of Colonial-era architecture, though it's been used for so many purposes since Revere lived there (including, at one point, a cigar factory), and it really doesn't look much like it did then (19 North Sq.; 617-523-2338). As immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," two lanterns (as in "two if by sea") were hung in the belfry tower of the Old North Church to signal the landing of the British in 1775. It's a lovely building, though you cannot climb the tower (193 Salem St.; 671-523-6676). Launched in 1797, the U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the world that's still afloat. U.S. Navy sailors take you below deck to explain what life was like for early-19th-century seamen, and there's also a World War II destroyer, the U.S.S. Cassin Young, berthed nearby (1 Constitution Rd.; 617-242-7511). Both are free.—updated by Jon Marcus
Guided tours are available daily between April and mid-November. Specialty tours, such as a historic pub crawl, are held the rest of the year. Tickets can be purchased online.
With temperatures moderated by warm ocean currents, Cape Cod is that rare place in New England where golfers can enjoy their sport almost year-round. Some of the Cape's 15 private courses are open to guests of certain hotels—you can play the Nicklaus-redesigned Ocean Edge Golf Club if you're staying at the Ocean Edge Resort and Club, for example—while others are ultraexclusive. The Donald Ross–designed Oyster Harbors Club in Osterville, for instance, famously turned away the billionaire president of Reebok, who ended up buying his own golf course in Mashpee. But no matter, the Cape's 20 public, municipal, and semiprivate courses are generally just as good. The Bass River Golf Course—also designed by Ross—has the Bass River as its inspiring backdrop. One of the newest courses, Ballymeade in East Falmouth, was redesigned by Chi Chi Rodriguez, and the oldest, Highland Links in North Truro, recalls Scotland with its windswept bluffs overlooking the ocean. A complete list of Cape Cod golf courses is available from the Massachusetts Golf Association (mgalinks.org).
Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge
195 Wauwinet Road
Nantucket , Massachusetts
Tel: 508 228 5646
One of the most rewarding adventures on Nantucket is a drive on the beach to the island's wild and woolly remote northeastern tip. You'll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle with reduced tire pressure (so you can maneuver on the sand), $125 for the entry fee (collected at the Wauwinet gatehouse), and a picnic lunch to enjoy beneath Great Point Light. The five-mile trip is pretty easy: Just follow the tire tracks. Stop along the way for a dip in the wavesthe only other person in sight might be a surf caster fishing for blues.
Cape Cod has miles of hiking trails through woods, marshland, cranberry bogs, and seashore, varying by length and difficulty. The Cape Cod National Seashore is laced with 11 self-guided hiking trails. Our favorites are in the often overlooked Fort Hill section (Route 6 at the Orleans–Eastham line), where shaded paths ramble through a dwarfish forest of gnarled pitch pines and marshland, past the spots where French explorer Samuel de Champlain dropped anchor in 1605, the Mayflower Pilgrims first sighted land 15 years later, and merchantmen and pirates were shipwrecked. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History offers guided wetlands hikes through the bay-side conservation land it owns. The Wellfleet Audubon Sanctuary maintains five miles of trails through 1,100 acres of salt marsh, sandy beach, and pine woodland teeming with songbirds (291 State Highway Rte. 6, South Wellfleet, 508-349-2615, massaudubon.org/Nature_Connection/Sanctuaries/Wellfleet). And you can hike through nearly 50 acres of holly trees at the Ashumet Holly Audubon Sanctuary (Ashumet Rd., East Falmouth, massaudubon.org/Nature_Connection/Sanctuaries/Ashumet_Holly). The Cape Cod Trails Conference, a network of hikers, maintains a guide to hiking routes (cctrails.org), and the Cape Cod Commission has a longer list of everything from flat walks to challenging hikes, organized by town (capecodcommission.org/pathways/#directory).
100 Northern Avenue
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 478 3100
Founded in 1936, the ICA showcases work by the likes of Nan Goldin, Mona Hatoum, Paul Chan, and Julian Opie (major exhibitions rotate three times per year). But it's the institute's new building, a cantilevered structure by New York–based architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, opened in 2006, that's really special here. Large wooden terraces overlooking the harbor seem like a giant's staircase leading into the museum, though the main entrance is actually on the opposite side of the building. In summer, the steps serve as an amphitheater for free waterside concerts and performances. Inside are white-on-white galleries, a glass elevator the size of a small hotel room, and a glass-enclosed theater—curtains lower to block natural light from flooding in when necessary. The most dramatic space, however, is the Poss Family Mediatheque. Suspended from the main cantilever at a 45-degree angle, its inclined window frames the water with no land or sky in view, making you feel as if you're about to fall in.
Open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays 10 am to 5 pm; Thursdays and Fridays 10 am to 9 pm (free after 5 pm).
280 The Fenway
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 566 1401
Isabella Stewart Gardner was an heiress and something of a black sheep of late-19th- and early-20th-century Boston society: She was a rabid Red Sox and horse-racing fan. Tapping into a $1.75 million inheritance from her father (a linen merchant) and husband (a financier and heir to a shipping fortune himself), Gardner personally designed this four-story building, modeled on a Venetian palazzo, to house her extensive collection of art and antiquities. The exhibits include paintings by Manet, Sargent, Holbein, Whistler, Rembrandt, Matisse, Michelangelo, and Titian; 15th-century Flemish tapestries; a first edition of Dante's Divine Comedy; and inscrutable documents—look for the one signed by Marie Antoinette. A visit to the museum is like meandering through the attic of a wealthy, if eccentric, old aunt. Mrs. Gardner believed that art should be appreciated on its own merits, so almost nothing is labeled, though some rooms have laminated information cards that fill in the blanks (and some have blank spaces on the walls where masterpieces hung until they were stolen in one of the greatest art heists in American history). The indoor garden courtyard, filled with citrus trees, orchids, and seasonal plantings, is as impressive as the collection—and there's an explanatory book about it that you can pick up at the information desk. If your name is "Isabella," you will be admitted free, and there's a discount if you have visited the nearby Museum of Fine Arts within a two-day period. (Bring your ticket stub.)—updated by Jon Marcus
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11 am to 5 pm.
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 866 535 1960
The JFK Library, which opened in 1979 in an I.M. Pei–designed building, is dedicated to the study of the 35th president's life and work, and houses his presidential papers and a museum. Start with a film chronicling JFK's life until the 1960 campaign season, then work your way through exhibits of campaign memorabilia (signs, buttons, and TV ads); video of the Kennedy–Nixon debates; correspondence between family members; and photos of the Kennedys at Hyannisport. It's great for history buffs, but be aware that getting there without a car is a bit of a schlep (on the T's Red Line, then a free shuttle bus); leave about 30 minutes each way. The museum, ringed by a pleasant harborside walking trail, is located adjacent to the University of Massachusetts Boston campus and steps away from the Commonwealth Museum of Massachusetts history, where you'll find original royal charters, John Adams's Massachusetts state constitution, and the copper plates from which Paul Revere engraved his famous etching of the Boston Massacre (220 Morrissey Blvd.; 617-727-9268).—updated by Jon Marcus
Open daily 9 am to 5 pm.
Cape Cod has the nation's largest collection of historic lighthouses, 14 in all. A few allow visitors; some have museums. We've listed the five you shouldn't miss:
Originally built in 1797 and then rebuilt in 1857, Highland Light in Truro is the oldest lighthouse on Cape Cod. It was also the first in the nation to have a flashing beacon—sailors had been confusing it with the Boston Light. Visitors can ascend 69 winding steps to the lantern room (183 feet above the sea) and check out the keeper's watch room. The shipwreck rooms in the neighboring museum are popular with kids.
Nauset Light, above the dunes of what is now called Nauset Light Beach, is one of the nation's most picturesque lighthouses and is periodically open for tours. Since being depicted by the artist Edward Hopper, its fame has overshadowed the three smaller lighthouses, called the Three Sisters, that once stood on this site. Those wooden lights are now dark and—oddly—located in the woods along a marked path off Cable Road in the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Nobska Point Light on Nobska Road in Woods Hole is a quintessential New England lighthouse: a 40-foot-high circular cast-iron tower painted white, on a high bluff, with a whitewashed, red-roofed keeper's house. The grounds are open to the public, and the lighthouse is open periodically for tours.
Race Point Light in Provincetown was built in 1816 where the open ocean meets the calmer waters of Cape Cod Bay. Since the light is two and a half miles from the nearest paved road, it's not surprising that a former Race Point lighthouse keeper is credited as the inventor of the dune buggy. You can stay overnight in the four-room keeper's house; a volunteer keeper will drive you there. If you just want to look at the lighthouse and not stay over, you can park at Race Point Beach and walk. It takes about 45 minutes.
Bass River Light in Dennis was deactivated when shipping declined, but it is now a hotel called the Lighthouse and is the only privately maintained working lighthouse beacon in the country. The inn has ocean views, of course, and working fireplaces; 3 of the 72 guest rooms and suites are in the original lighthouse keeper's house.
Three of the Vineyard's five lighthouses (all on the north side of the island) are open to the public for sunset tours operated by the Martha's Vineyard Museum (508-627-4441; mvmuseum.org). East Chop Light, in Oak Bluffs, is perched on a cliff 79 feet above the sea (508-693-8104). The red-brick Gay Head Lighthouse is on the edge of the Aquinnah cliffs and visitors are allowed into the light chamber; its original Fresnel lens, which was exhibited at the 1855 World's Fair in Paris, is now on exhibit in the Martha's Vineyard Museum. The Edgartown Lighthouse originally stood in Ipswich, Mass., and was moved to its present site after its predecessor was badly damaged by the Hurricane of 1938 (508-627-4441). Guarding the entrance to Vineyard Haven, the West Chop Lighthouse in its current brick incarnation dates from 1838 and was the last manned lighthouse on the island. There are also guided tours to (though not inside) the Cape Poge Lighthouse, at the far end of Chappaquiddick. This structure has been rebuilt four times since it first went up in 1801. The current white wooden structure was built in 1893 and on four occasions has had to be moved farther from the waterthe last time by helicopter (508-627-3599; thetrustees.org). For lighthouse connoisseurs, the Vineyard has launched an annual Martha's Vineyard Lighthouse Challenge in June, including transportation to all five lighthouses and a "lighthouse passport" book (800-505-4815; mvy.com/islandinfo/lighthouse_challenge).
Religious camp meetings were a fast-growing trend in the 1830s, when Methodists encamped for the first time in Oak Bluffs. Eventually, they built small wooden houses in concentric circles around a massive open-air tabernacle on streets with names like Jordan Crossing. Many of the 312 gingerbread-style houses have been passed down from generation to generation; the land on which they sit is owned communally. For best effect, enter the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association through the metal arch off Circuit Avenue. Renovations to the tabernacle, rebuilt in 1879, were completed in spring 2008, and in the summer, the Camp Meeting Association (which is now interdenominational) hosts community sing-alongs on Wednesday nights and bands and choirs on Friday and Saturday nights. Only one of the colorful cottages, the Cottage Museum, is open to the public; it exhibits typical furnishings and memorabilia, including the rocking chair where President Ulysses S. Grant sat when he visited. There's also an original magic lantern film projector lighted with a wicker candle (1 Trinity Park; closed October 1 through late May).
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 267 9300
One of America's grandest art museums, the MFA holds American and European paintings from the 7th century to the present (Sargent, O'Keefe, and Monet are well-represented); sizable collections of African, Egyptian, and Near Eastern artifacts; and one of the most highly regarded collections of Asian art in the Western world. The collection is housed in an 1909 neoclassical building and two critically acclaimed additions: the Art of the Americas Wing, by British architect Norman Foster, and the Linde Family Wing of contemporary art. Make a day of it; the MFA has excellent restaurants, innovative special exhibits, and a peaceful courtyard. The museum is free on Wednesdays after 4 pm (though you'll still get hit up for a donation), and paid admission entitles you to come back for free one time within a 10-day period. —updated by Jon Marcus
Open daily 10 am to 4:45 pm; the West Wing and select galleries stay open until 9:45 pm Wednesdays through Fridays.
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 723 2500
At the mouth of the Charles River, with views of the Boston skyline, the Museum of Science is crowded with hands-on exhibits that demonstrate everything from biology to computers to physics. Kids can determine how much sugar is in a bottle of Coca-Cola, measure the volume of their lungs, and investigate the mysteries of lightning with the world's largest Van de Graaff generator. (That one's a blast for adults, too.) There's also an adorable troupe of live cotton-top tamarin monkeys who live here to help the museum staff study evolution, a planetarium that was renovated and reopened in 2011, and an Omnimax theater that shows science- and technology-oriented films, such as Galápagos. Volunteers roam the building on Segways to dole out information. The Butterfly Garden, a humid greenhouse opened in 2005, flutters with about 100 butterflies (monarchs, owl butterflies, and bamboo pages) and features exotic plants, like the Stachytarpheta (or Blue Rat's Tail). In a city as high-tech as this one, the museum falls surprisingly short of being cutting edge, and some of the exhibits are worn. Nonetheless, it's generally mobbed by school groups on weekdays and herds of suburban families on weekends (a huge parking deck sits next to the building to accommodate them). Visit on a Friday evening after 5 pm to avoid the crowds.—updated by Jon Marcus
Open daily 9 am to 5 pm (until 9 pm on Fridays). Summer hours, between July 5 and Labor Day, 9 am to 7 pm (until 9 pm on Fridays).
Moby Dick? True story. The Nantucket whaler Essex, the basis for Herman Melville's classic, was rammed by a whale off the coast of South America in 1820 and survivors resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. The personal journal of an Essex crewman is part of the collection of Nantucket's Whaling Museum. Housed partly in an 1847 spermaceti candle factory, the museum completed a $13 million restoration and expansion in 2005making it large enough for the curators to suspend a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton from the main gallery's ceiling. Also on display: a large collection of scrimshaw (etched and carved whale ivory) and whaling trade artifacts (13 Broad St.; 508-228-1736; nha.org; closed late Octobermid-April). For more Nantucket history, head to the small post-and-beam African American Meeting House. Dating from 1827, it's the nation's second-oldest surviving meetinghouse built by free blacks for their own use. It has been renovated and is open to the public (29 York St.; 508-228-9833; afroammuseum.org; closed SeptemberJune). Maria Mitchell, the country's first female astronomer and first female professor of astronomy was also the first American woman to discover a comet through a telescopeand she did it on the roof of Nantucket's Pacific National Bank building on October 1, 1847. The telescope she used is in her birthplace, a typical Quaker-style Nantucket home built in 1790 that's now known as the Maria Mitchell House and Museum of Astronomy. The Maria Mitchell Association also operates two observatories. Check mmo.org for the schedule of tours and nighttime viewings (1 Vestal St.; 508-228-9198; closed mid-Octoberearly June).
Boston , Massachusetts
Tel: 617 973 5200
Located right on Boston Harbor on Central Wharf, the New England Aquarium is home to animals from both the Northeast and around the world. Atlantic harbor seals greet guests from an outdoor habitat, and 3 of the 17 penguin species are represented here—you can use a beam of light to encourage them to play in the water, or show up at 9 am or 2:30 pm for feeding time. There are exhibits on local ecosystems, such as the Boston Harbor Islands, but the centerpiece of the building is the 200,000-gallon Giant Ocean Tank. Start at the top and wind down the ramp to view Murtle the Turtle, a 550-pound Atlantic green turtle, as well as schools of fish, sharks, and rays that rub right up against the glass. The largest IMAX theater in New England, which screens 3-D movies such as Deep Sea 3D (narrated by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet), is housed in an adjacent building. Between April and October, the aquarium hosts whale-watching tours that last three to four hours; book in advance online.
Open Mondays through Fridays 9 am to 5 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 9 am to 6 pm. Summer hours, between July 1 and Labor Day, Sundays through Thursdays 9 am to 6 pm, Fridays and Saturdays 9 am to 7 pm.
460 Commercial Street
Provincetown , Massachusetts
Tel: 508 487 1750
The Provincetown Art Association and Museum, founded in 1914, displays an impressive collection of works by Provincetown-connected artists, such as Edward Hopper, Robert Motherwell, Claes Oldenburg, William Merritt Chase, Mary Fassett, Andy Warhol, and Joel Meyerowitz.
Open daily 9 am to 7 pm, June through mid-September; 9 am to 5 pm, April, May, and mid-September through October; and Thursdays through Mondays 9 am to 5 pm, November.
One High Pole Hill Road
Provincetown , Massachusetts
Tel: 508 487 1310
The Provincetown Museum is easy to find: It's at the base of the 252-foot Pilgrim Monument, the tallest granite structure in the nation. The exhibits include a cannon from the H.M.S. Somerset, which laid siege to the town during the Revolutionary War; a reconstructed captain's cabin from a whaling ship; and tributes to P-town residents Donald MacMillan, the Arctic explorer, and Eugene O'Neill, the first American playwright to win the Nobel Prize.
Open daily 9 am to 7 pm, mid-June through mid-September; 9 am to 5 pm, April through mid-June and mid-September through November.
Slip 1015, Straight Wharf
Nantucket , Massachusetts
Tel: 508 228 5585
Captain Jim Genthner sails Nantucket Sound several times each day on his 31-foot Friendship sloop Endeavor. The tours leave from Straight Wharf and take in sights like the Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket Harbor, and the mansions along the coast. If you're a sailor, you can help hoist the sails; if not, just enjoy the ride while Genthner regales you with tales of the island's maritime past. A one-hour morning sail costs $15 per person; it's $35 for a romantic 90-minute sunset sail.
Open May through October
The waters around Nantucket teem with bluefish, striped bass, tuna, fluke, black sea bassand a few lurking sharks. Surf casters can fly-fish directly off the beach (many head out to Great Point). The guides at Rusty Fly Fishing Charters in Madaket know where the fish are biting (Jackson Point Pier, Madaket; 508-982-5398; www.rustyfly.com; closed mid-Oct.mid-May). Deep-sea fishermen can catch one of several charters at Straight Wharf in town, including the Herbert T at Slip 14 (508-228-6655; www.fishnantucket.net; closed mid-OctoberMemorial Day) and Just Do It Too at Slip 13 (508-228-7448). Recreational shellfish permits are $100 for nonresidents and are issued by the Nantucket Marine and Coastal Resources Department (34 Washington St.; 508-228-7261; nantucket-ma.gov/pages/nantucketmA_marine). Quahogs and mussels are fair game all year; if you're visiting in the off-season you can also go scalloping (October 1 March 31) or clamming (September 15June 15).
The oldest professional summer theater in America, the Cape Playhouse opened in Dennis in 1927 and still brings in Broadway-caliber talent and productions. (Bette Davis worked here as an usher before making her debut on the Playhouse stage.) Three years after opening the playhouse, entrepreneur Raymond Moore built the 300-seat Cape Cinema, which now shows first-run independent and foreign films and hosts live music and HD simulcasts of New York's Metropolitan Opera. Don't forget to look up: A 6,400-square-foot modernist mural of the heavens by Rockwell Kent covers the vaulted ceiling.
The Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre operates year-round and is where David Mamet, Sam Shepard, David Rabe, and others have staged world premieres and other works. If summer blockbusters are more your taste, the Wellfleet Drive-In Theater, a Cape staple with a dairy bar and grill built in 1957, shows first-run double features nightly in warm weather. On weekend days, it's the site of Cape Cod's biggest flea market.
266 Main Street
Wellfleet , Massachusetts
Tel: 508 349 9157
The Wellfleet Historical Society Museum reflects the long reach of this small town. On display are memorabilia related to the first transatlantic wireless broadcast as well as exhibits on Wellfleet native Lorenzo Baker (who in 1870 imported bananas for the first time) and prominent residents Luther Crowell (inventor of the square-bottom paper bag) and Sarah Atwood (one of the country's first female lighthouse keepers).
Open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays 1 to 4 pm, Tuesdays and Fridays 10 am to 4 pm, late June through early September.
Whales, like tourists, summer here, and they've become a popular draw—a favorable twist of fate, considering that the Cape Cod whale trade almost wiped them out in the 19th century. Most of the whales off Cape Cod are humpbacks, but excursion boats have reported sightings lately of rare right whales. These boats leave from Provincetown and Barnstable harbors and head to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a plankton-rich area where the whales like to feed. In Provincetown, the Dolphin Fleet operates three whale-watch boats from lively MacMillan Wharf; aboard are naturalists from the highly regarded Center for Coastal Studies (800-826-9300, whalewatch.com). Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises, which leaves from quiet Barnstable Harbor, has a fast, purpose-built, 130-foot cruiser with whale-friendly water-jet propulsion. It, too, carries naturalists, several of them teachers, on its whale expeditions (888-942-5392, whales.net). Whale watches typically last three to four hours and cost from $40 to $45 per person for adults. Food is available on board.